Neighborhood Power

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In a brief paper for the DeVoe Moore Center, Robert Nelson argues [pdf] for adapting the Business Improvement District model to residential neighborhoods.

Elsewhere in Reason: I looked at the pros and cons of BIDs in our November 2003 issue. Nelson considered a range of decentralist urban proposals in April of this year.

NEXT: The Big Sleazy

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  1. How long before Joe shows up?

  2. I’m in favor of anything a community can do to bring power down to a more micro level. I have no problem with nanny-control, as long as it’s on a local enough level that people can easily move to another local area.

  3. Right on, smalls!
    You can move to the next town over or run against the nanny yourself in the next election.
    I live in a community that prides itself on being “progressive.”
    I don’t mind that they have banned handguns in my community, since I knew that coming in.
    I like that they formulated a plan to desegregate the community in the 60s, since, in the long term, this has kept my property values higher than surrounding communities (and I like to live among all sorts of different people).
    I like that my town works hard to preserve the architecturally significant homes and buildings in our town.
    I understand that to others, having a handgun may be crucial to their happiness. They can move to the next town over. I believe the federal and state governments should treat the 2nd amendment as sacrosanct, but my town does seem safer to us since anyone playing with handguns, whether or not they fire them, gets into trouble.
    A local housing authority that steers white people to areas with higher concentration of black people and vice versa may sound like big brother or too much meddling in the marketplace, but it has worked well in our town.
    I understand that, to others, tearing down a leaky-roofed prairie style home and building a new mcmansion next to a Frank Lloyd Wright gem may seem like a great way to have your cake and eat it too. I believe that cheapens the entire district.
    I ask, can Libertarianism accept the power of local control? Can we have something like city-states? If the feds would get out of the prohibition business, my town might legalize reefer, but ban heroin. The next town over might ban all drugs. Another town might legalize everything. Would this be a problem?

  4. Americans have already tried the most potent form of “residential improvement district.” It was called a “school district.” Sadly, school districts were abolished by demagogues and courts ruling in “equal funding” lawsuits that communities were not permitted to spend their own money on the public amenities that suited them best.

    You watch. If any community forms a “RID,” then members will try to supplement local school funding. “Grievance industry” outsiders will immediately accuse the RID of racism and sue it.

  5. ….The next town over might ban all drugs. Another town might legalize everything. Would this be a problem?

    It still wouldn’t be Libertarian, but it would be a vast improvement. Libertarians bring sovereignty down to the individual. You’ve got it one level up.

  6. Sadly, school districts were abolished by demagogues and courts ruling in “equal funding” lawsuits

    I don’t know what planet you’re on, but on this one, school districts are alive and well, “equal funding” lawsuits go nowhere, and wealthy districts still manage to pay much more to attract the best teachers. At least that’s the way it is in New York State; and this is of course by design & was most certainly racist in origin. In fact, the proliferation of school districts has been the best way to prevent any kind of meaningful school choice, by trapping poor kids in the poorest districts.

  7. “equal funding” lawsuits go nowhere

    Except, umm, where they don’t.

    Google “Robin Hood Texas school finance” if you don’t believe me.

    And, by the way, what was struck down recently wasn’t the premise of “equal funding”, it was the de facto statewide property tax used to achieve equal funding.

  8. I have no problem with nanny-control, as long as it’s on a local enough level that people can easily move to another local area.

    Problem is, moving is actually pretty difficult. It’s easier if you rent, but selling and buying a home is complicated, time consuming, and expensive. So the actual usefulness of a sort of ‘micro-federalism’ is limited, because the benefit of moving has to outweigh the hassle and cost.

  9. I know it is not truly libertarian, but “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” no?
    I don’t mind a locally controlled organization, like my township, providing mental health services to poorer people in my area. I am aware of the fees that I pay in property taxes to support these services when I buy a home here. If I want publicly supported art on display in my village, I don’t mind paying for that, because I know what I get for my money, as opposed to federal funds that may support a “piss-christ” or a Kinkade. Is it intellectually inconsistent to claim to be libertarian, but like the idea of having community funded and controlled services? Are PUDs (Planned Unit Developments, i.e., your subdivision’s neighborhood association, the people to whom you pay monthly or yearly dues to do things to maintain your property value) un-libertarian? They can fine you for infractions, and if you don’t pay your fines they will put a lien on your property. From PUD to RID to BID to township gov’t to village gov’t, where is the line? Is it where the enforcers are allowed to carry guns? Some neighborhood associations have contracted armed security forces. There are gray areas between gov’t and private sector. Could a PUD ban handguns? They can ban decorations on your house.
    Where is that line?

  10. Back in collage in the 70’s, I recall while advocating a rapid spread of capitalism, and so the privatization of almost everything, someone said to me; “Rick, while you’re getting rid of all this government, remember to leave enough so that the trash gets picked up.” Well, in my neighborhood now, we have four separate trash companies picking up the trash and vying for our patronage. And they all offer recycling.

  11. dead elvis,

    When you buy a home, aren’t you aware of the type of community you are moving into? Couldn’t you work to change at the local level if you don’t like certain aspects? or buy in another town to begin with? The question changes and becomes even more complicated when you speak of bigger cities, but in communities under, say, 100,000, is change so out of reach for a determined individual? If the community is so resistant to your changes, perhaps it isn’t where you really wish to live.
    What do you think? Should a local community be able to say that within our borders we want these certain things and we are willing to pay for them with property or sales taxes and if you do not want to pay for these things, do not move here? It is not the same as the feds saying that you who oppose abortion, you will pay for this 16 year old girl’s abortion, and you who keeps kosher or halal, you will pay to subsidize this man’s pig farm. IS it the same? It doesn’t feel the same. I can call my village gov’t and talk to the president. I know where he lives. I can’t even get more than an automated response email from my state senator.
    If I want to live somewhere where I pay nearly nothing in local taxes, I can move out to the sticks and still be near enough to the metropolitan area. If I want to live where zoning allows a liquor store on every corner, I can move a couple miles in any direction. My town is more expensive and stricter, but I don’t mind. Our community changes to reflect the residents’ values. Being locally controlled, the gov’t is quite flexible.
    Why couldn’t this sort of local sovereignty exist with a libertarian gov’t on the state & federal levels?

  12. Should a local community be able to say…

    Depends on the things. I say this not as a localgovernmentarian or a whatmycitycouncilwantsatarian; I say this as a libertarian.

  13. But to get down into specifics…

    Should a local community be able to say that within our borders we want these certain things and we are willing to pay for them with property or sales taxes and if you do not want to pay for these things, do not move here?

    What if you already live there?

    It is not the same as the feds saying that you who oppose abortion, you will pay for this 16 year old girl’s abortion, and you who keeps kosher or halal, you will pay to subsidize this man’s pig farm. IS it the same? It doesn’t feel the same.

    Er…If it’s the city, village, or town center improvement district making you do any of those things, it’s pretty much the same. As for feeling the same, I really don’t care who forces me to do things I object to doing.

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